Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Most Cynical Chapter of St. Paul’s Nasty Budget Battle

If you saw $9 million lying on the sidewalk, would you pick it up?

What’s that? You can’t be bothered? What if you were $15.1 million in the red, would you be willing to bend a little then?

If you’ve paid even cursory attention to the headlines, you know St. Paul Public Schools finds itself in the midst of a painful community discussion over the 2016-2017 budget deficit. With the fat long gone, the Board of Education and district administration are now looking at cleaving into the meat of the school day.

All of which begs the only slightly sarcastic question above. Because $9 million in potential state aid is being left on the table because the St. Paul Federation of Teachers would prefer other budget-balancing measures. Continue reading

Meet the Inspirational Dwan Quinn

My job is just unfathomably, absurdly great. Dwan Quinn graduates from high school tomorrow in New Orleans and you really do want to know what that means to generations of Quinns.

The lede to my latest story for The74Million:


His grandmother, his mother, his father, all three of his uncles, his auntie and cousin — Dwan Quinn is hard-pressed to think of a single relative who did not attend George Washington Carver High School. Located in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, the school is an ever-present fixture in the family’s stories.

“My grandma worked in the cafeteria at Carver while my mom went there,” says Quinn. “They talk all the time about the traditions that went on in that building. I saw how much fun they had with the band especially, and the football team.”

Lots of cities have a high school that’s the equivalent of Carver, where everyone knows the names of the neighborhood kids who went on to become elected officials, professional athletes, scholars or musicians. By the numbers, the schools might be failure factories. Yet they are often a community’s emotional lynchpin.

On Friday, Quinn will become his family’s first male member to graduate from high school. In the fall, he’ll be the first family member to go to college, to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana.


Want to know the rest of the story? Yes, yes you do. You really do.

In Which the Argumentum Gets Even More Verbosium

In March, I wrote a blog post about a legal decision rejecting a proposal for integrating Minnesota schools that would have decimated high-performing, culturally affirming schools while leaving majority white schools majority white. In the post, I said that University of Minnesota Professor Myron Orfield, who directs the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, had engaged in the fallacy of argumentum verbosium–otherwise known as proof by intimidation–by slinging around impenetrable jargon in a way that glossed over fundamental weaknesses in a report he asserts proves public charter schools underperform their mainline district brethren.

The judges who issued the 93-page opinion were not so arch as I, but also found fault with Orfield’s characterizations.

In the wake of my post, former local education advocate-turned social science grad student Dan Wick submitted a guest post, “Argumentum Verbosium Pt II: On ‘All Things Being Equal,'” dissecting, in accessible English, the report Orfield wrote: “What on earth is regression analysis and how can I use it to state my policy conclusions with infallible certainty?”   Continue reading

The Sudden Hopeful Turn in Minneapolis’ Superintendent Search

What if the Fix Was in But They Picked the Wrong Dark Horse?

The conspiracy du jour last week involving the Minneapolis Public Schools was this: A search committee Friday night advanced two candidates, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius and some guy from Alaska. Ed Graff’s contract as superintendent in Anchorage was not renewed earlier this year because his board felt someone else was needed to drive aggressive academic growth.

To be sure, there were more candidates in the pool, and at least two were well-regarded and arguably qualified. A couple of days before the finalists were announced, three members of the Minneapolis School Board introduced a resolution to have three finalists put forward but were shot down.

Sounds like a setup, right? Surely Graff, as my colleague Chris Stewart immediately quipped on the internets, was the equivalent of the team that always goes up against the Harlem Globetrotters.

And there are various schools of Kremlinology that could explain why some folks, including factions of the DFL, would want to structure things so that Cassellius was the obvious candidate. The commissioner has mixed track records in Minneapolis and at the state and enough critics that her appointment fight could otherwise be as uphill as Merrick Garland’s.

And and—and this is important—the fractious and back-bitey tenor of the two failed attempts to name a superintendent over the last 18 months have resulted in so much community mistrust that precious few of the advocates who’ve tracked the process are left in the room. Continue reading